Learning How to Rest: The Importance of Sabbath at a School that Won’t Stop Moving

By Sarah Borger

Life at Hillsdale often seems like a busyness competition. At the beginning of each new semester, or during class registration time, many conversations revolve around course loads and credit hours, and become competitions for who has the most extracurricular activities or works the most hours. The silent contest for who has the most credits launches, and questions of whether we should take this course or that seminar intrude on our conversations. In the midst of this, we often find ourselves so overwhelmed that we may skip meals or stay up into the wee hours of the morning doing homework, just to find ourselves completely exhausted the next day. We forget what we love to do for fun, and lose the concept of hobbies. But, we tell ourselves, this is just how it has to be. It is, after all, Hillsdale, and we pride ourselves on our academic rigor and achievement.

But what do we do when the stresses of “normal” college life reduce us to barely surviving each semester, or waking up just to start the countdown until we can sleep again? What happens when this life triggers a panic disorder or fractures relationships between friends and family? We say strength rejoices in the challenge, but are we truly rejoicing? Or are we merely scraping by until the next break? When we cease to recognize our own stress thresholds and care for basic bodily needs, such as meals, sleep, or exercise, our strength degenerates into desperation and our rejoicing turns into mere surviving.

Perhaps we tell ourselves that we are leading a balanced life because our semester has a well-rounded mix of seminars, classes, work hours, volunteering, and extracurricular activities. Perhaps we’re searching for something better, but resign ourselves to the stress because we think that this is what Hillsdale is supposed to be like. Perhaps we feel that there is no escaping the load on our backs because we don’t have a choice, because we have to be doing this.

Or perhaps we put a different kind of pressure on ourselves. With so many opportunities at Hillsdale, we want to do it all. We want to learn, pursue our interests, and gain a wealth of new experiences, and this isn’t bad. Taking fascinating classes is a good thing. Being involved around campus is a good thing. Taking advantage of the opportunities at Hillsdale and trying new things is a good thing. Unfortunately, it’s hard to enjoy our activities when over-commitment makes us burn out.. Soon we feel like we’re missing out because, even though we’re taking thought-provoking classes, we don’t have time to really focus on each one. While we’re participating in interesting clubs and organizations, we’re pulled in too many directions and can’t be as involved as we want to be.

As a student here at Hillsdale, I understand the pressures we put on ourselves. I see the stress eating away at dear friends of mine, and I’ve felt it take its toll on me. It seems like there’s no way out of it. We look around and see others who seem to have it all together, who do everything and then some, who overachieve to succeed, and who seem to be living out what it means to be a Hillsdale student. I wanted to be that perfect Hillsdale student, not just because it seemed like who I was supposed to be, but because it was who I wanted to be. I took a good amount of classes, bumped up the credit load with music extracurriculars, started two on-campus jobs, and made sure I volunteered every week and had some clubs on my resumé. I thought that this was what I was supposed to do, because that’s what I saw in the people around me. They did everything, they did it well, and they were praised as examples. However, beneath this image, people such as these students are struggling with perfectionism, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, and a crumbling fear of failure. They cannot rest because if they do, the sphere of commitments they’re juggling will most surely come crashing down and leave them far behind in life.

I would like to propose that the life that I am describing is not what Hillsdale is about. Hillsdale was never meant to be a rat race that we try to hide beneath our pressed suits and nude heels. Learning should not be a chore — it should be a joy. When we forgo rest in favor of work, we end up exhausted. We should be seeking knowledge not because we feel like we should, but because we love to learn and desire to seek beauty, truth, and goodness. But how can we do this? I believe the answer lies in an old-as-time concept: The Sabbath.

In the Beginning

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and everything in them, the land and its beasts. He created the skies and the stars above and the plants below. He created the birds and the lilies, the fish and bees. He created man, and he created woman, and he called his creation very good. And then, he rested.

The Sabbath is built into the very foundation of the world. The first day after creation was deemed a day of rest; rest is the first “activity” of the newly-made world. God’s example of resting began the narrative of humanity, infusing a need for rest into human nature. The Sabbath is ingrained in us. This is how we were meant to be.

In a sense, practicing the Sabbath is a sacrifice. It is a discipline, requiring us to set aside our productivity, our sense of busyness, and our feeling of usefulness, in order to rest in him. It requires discipline to put the books down and not check work emails. It takes practice to learn how to rest. In the culture of busyness that we are swept up in, the idea of rest is somewhat foreign. It seems wrong, even wasteful. But as this practice of resting on the Sabbath continues and we begin learning how to rest, it becomes easier. The sacrifice becomes a gift.

By tithing our time and giving a day to rest in the Lord, we receive more blessings than we sacrifice. We can rediscover the passions God has woven into our spirits. The Sabbath allows us to relax in communion with God, a communion found by participating in the seventh day rest with him. Soon we are more refreshed, we have more energy, and we are discovering joy in what we do. As we embrace our natural need to rest with our Lord, we can live more fully, bringing renewed energy to our studies, our friendships, and the challenges we face in everyday life. God didn’t command us to keep the Sabbath day holy because he needed worship. I believe that God calls us to Sabbath because he knows how he created us and wants to bring us into his rest, even in the midst of Hillsdale’s culture of busyness. Though I’ve tended to resist rest, I still need it. Last fall semester, I piled on as much as I could, but was continually burning out, just trying to make it to the next school break so that I could recover. But even those breaks didn’t help, because I had gotten myself so worked up in this busyness mentality that I became anxious when faced with free time. I didn’t know how to rest even when I had the chance.

Learning How to Rest

Learning how to rest is difficult. Despite its being instituted in the very beginning of time, it doesn’t come as naturally as we might hope.It makes us anxious, frustrating our feeling of self-worth and pushing us into withdrawal as we begin to pull away from our addiction to busyness. And then, something wonderful happens as the sacrifice becomes the gift. The Sabbath becomes a day to look forward to. We dream up things to do and adventures to go on when Sunday arrives. We explore passions that once sat dusty on our shelves and learn that productivity does not define our self-worth. Our worth does not lie in some utilitarian checklist items, but in our identities as children of God, redeemed by Christ. We can participate in this identity more fully in worship on Sundays, since we’re focused on Christ and not on an afternoon to do list.

We find an example of this participation in the Biblical account of Mary and Martha’s visit with Jesus. Martha scrambles to cook and clean, while Mary doesn’t do anything to help her. Mary simply sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to his words. Martha is the Hillsdale student with 18 credits, 4 volunteer hours per week, 2 part-time jobs, and heavy extracurricular commitments. On the side, she tutors Spanish students and runs a social media page for a local business. She is “distracted with serving” (Luke 10:40). The things she is doing are not inherently bad. They can bring great joy to her and those around her, glorify God, and help those who need help.

Mary, on the other hand, might seem like an underachiever here at Hillsdale. She might only take four classes per semester, be active in only a couple activities or work a part-time job, and volunteer once a week at the preschool. She might not seem as driven or high-achieving as Martha, and perhaps she worries about what others might think.

Then Jesus visits. He is there with them, and while Martha is bustling about trying to make everything just right, Mary simply sits and listens to Jesus speaking. She shares in this communion with Christ while the world rushes past. And Martha, who is pursuing so many good things and struggling to meet all the spoken or unspoken expectations, knows Jesus is there. But she can’t stop. There’s too much to do, and she has to make everything good enough. She can’t let her carefully orchestrated rush of activity crash to the ground.

Then Jesus speaks, calmly and quietly. He knows her heart, and he knows that she is trying to do what’s right. And with his words, he beckons her into his rest, into his Sabbath:

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Recognizing her anxious and troubled state, he welcomes her into a vulnerable communion with him, and calls her to turn to the good portion, to this communion with her God. Thus the sacrifice becomes the gift.

Bringing the Gift to Hillsdale

When we look at Hillsdale, it seems impossible to practice the Sabbath. Hillsdale is more demanding than other schools, we tell ourselves, and we can’t afford to take a day off. A couple of years ago, I didn’t understand how this could be possible. Maybe somewhere else, but not here. Homework already consumed my life. I didn’t have time to take an entire day out of every week to not work. I was nervous that my grades would fall or that I wouldn’t have enough time to get everything done.

I tried it, though, figuring that it was worth a shot. It was a sacrifice, and it wasn’t without its struggles, but I have never been so excited for Sundays before. I was less stressed during the week because I had the Sabbath to look forward to, and, come Monday, I had renewed energy for the week. I began to care more about my classes and was more engaged in what I was learning. I still had time to do homework, and had more time to dedicate to friendships and hobbies. I realized how fun it was to bake without a time restraint, color for hours, connect with friends and family from back home, and really enjoy church without the distraction of a Sunday to-do list.

However, taking the Sabbath at Hillsdale isn’t without challenges. It’s difficult to practice the Sabbath alone, especially in the Hillsdale culture. There is a loneliness to it when everyone else is so busy with school and work that they don’t have a break. Man was not made to practice the Sabbath alone. The Sabbath should be a time for community. If Hillsdale students took the time to practice the Sabbath together, we might discover a community that goes beyond classes and work. Maybe we’d go to church together, lingering after worship to chat with each other and connect to others in the congregation. We could enjoy brunch together, chatting about life.

We’d talk, we’d laugh, and we wouldn’t worry about time slipping away, because there wouldn’t be an agenda. We might discover what we love to do and do the things we love. We could explore the world of Hillsdale beyond the favorite study spots in town. We could share in quality time with each other, learning about who we are beyond our credit hours and resumé fillers.

Through the Sabbath, we could find renewed energy with which to pursue our studies and engage in our learning. There would be time for Sunday afternoon naps and writing letters back home and having movie nights without worrying about homework. During the week, we could focus on our studies and delight in what we’re learning, energized by our Sabbath rest. We could rejoice in the challenge instead of trying to survive it. By practicing the Sabbath, we might find that resting, something that may seem like it doesn’t fit into Hillsdale culture, actually allows us to become better Hillsdale students.

Sarah Borger is a junior studying English and Spanish.

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